Finding Backcountry Turns at Mount Cardigan

The fantastic backcountry skiing on New Hampshire’s Mount Cardigan is far from a secret. With an Appalachian Mountain Club-owned lodge at the mountain’s base, as well as an AMC-operated high cabin located a half-mile from the summit, Mount Cardigan draws an eclectic group of snowshoers, campers, and backcountry skiers during the winter. Further adding to the mountain’s popularity is its inclusion in David Goodman’s seminal book, Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski Tours in New England and New York.

It’s not uncommon to show up at the mountain, only to find the parking lot already packed with cars. But, don’t be discouraged; this has happened to me on more than one occasion, and once I was in the woods, I saw hardly anyone else…and still found some freshies!

Here are just a couple reasons it’s such a great spot:

1. It’s close

In addition to the AMC’s presence on the mountain, one of the main reasons for its popularity is its proximity to Southern New England. Located off exit 23 on I-93, it’s substantially further south than most other popular New Hampshire backcountry spots. Keep this in mind if conditions seem questionable, as the snow here is less predictable than its northern counterparts.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

2. It’s great for beginners

With relatively wide trails and nothing incredibly steep on Mount Cardigan, it’s no wonder that many backcountry skiers get their start here. Throw in trails protected by trees (it’s easy to enjoy great skiing below treeline if the weather isn’t cooperating), a lodge to get ready in, and a fire to sit in front of if you burn yourself out before the rest of your group, and Mount Cardigan is a great place to transition from skiing the resort to exploring the backcountry.

3. It’s great for experienced skiers

With its close proximity to the Northeast’s population centers, Cardigan is a great choice for skiers looking to spend more time skiing and less time driving. Also, the lack of steepness and shorter trails allow fit skiers to take multiple runs in a day.

4. It gives you options

Mount Cardigan has two trails designated for backcountry skiing, and a handful of stashes if you feel like poking around. But, even if you don’t discover the stashes, you’re sure to have a blast! The Alexandria Trail is the shorter and steeper one of the two main routes. Specifically designed for skiers by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this trail widens right when you want it to and gives you plenty of room to carve. The Duke’s Trail is a great run for first-time backcountry skiers, and although longer than the Alexandria Trail, its gentler terrain is perfect for getting new skiers comfortable away from the groomers.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. It has incredible views

Although both the Alexandria Trail and the Duke’s Trail are mostly protected by trees, both do ascend above treeline to a bare summit (the result of an 1855 fire) and deliver great views of Monadnock to the south, the White Mountains’ larger peaks to the north, and Vermont in the west. Because of the unprotected nature of the slopes above treeline, I have found everything from bare rock to snow piled high, thanks to the wind. You never know!

Now, just add snow!

With the beta in hand, now all we have to do is wait for snow. Keep in mind that, while there is a lodge at the bottom of the mountain, this is still backcountry skiing, and there is no ski patrol there to mark hazards or take care of you if you get hurt.

If you want to learn more about how to pack for a backcountry ski trip, take a look at our What’s In Your Guide’s Pack article to see what EMS Climbing School professionals carry with them when heading into the backcountry.

What’s your favorite part of skiing Mount Cardigan?

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck